“Three full months of summer holidays are finally over. Coping with my commitments to my family and my employer has been overwhelming. Just as I’m looking forward to school term and some breathing space, the school letter arrives. It’s a joke. There are more school holidays than I have work leave available. Now I’m at my wits’ end.”
Julia spoke to me quietly, her outward calm concealing the turmoil going on inside her. Many mothers are accustomed to braving the storm as a coping mechanism to help them keep going. But her eyes looked worried. They gave away that she was exhausted and uneasy about the future.
“As a working mother, your winter schedule is tight enough, but at least there are those holy hours of school time when you can go about your work and household duties. In summer and other school holidays, those precious few hours in the day are taken away. Life can be very stressful in those times. I prayed for school term to arrive throughout three very, very long months.
“But when the school letter came, it did not offer redemption. My kids have only seven days of school throughout the entire month of December. They return to school from the Christmas holidays only a week into January. Wait, then there are all the half days and mid term holidays, and let us not forget the Easter break! What is a working parent supposed to do?” continued Julia.
Julia is not alone in her despair. For many mothers, school holidays are a time when they must work at double speed and engage organisational skills fitting of a project manager just to get through a single day. When the kids are at home, it is altogether a different story. They need more of your time. They need more care. They need more play. They need you more.
Despite increasing pressure by society and the government for both parents to work, the school calendar does nothing to support this movement. Has the Maltese school calendar become outdated? Does school in Malta dictate that flexible working
is the only option for working parents?
School in Malta has remained much the same since a time when most mothers only tended to home and family, while kids enjoyed play in the fields after school. Today, without flexible working conditions, working mothers struggle to find a suitable work-life balance
. Even on normal school days, with kids knocking off at 1.30pm, children are being scurried off to this or that carer or activity to keep them engaged until a parent could come home.
Has the Maltese school system become a burden on modern parents and children? Cramming an entire scholastic year into what seems like the minimum hours possible is putting undue physical and psychological pressure on both working parents and school children.
Less school hours also mean reduced learning time, which puts more pressure on the kids. The long summer break makes it harder for them to get back into gear. The short school day means they often need to go to private lessons to up their learning hours. The several school breaks mean they need to do more homework by themselves, when they are feeling that they should be enjoying their holidays.
“The situation does not help anyone. You know it does not make sense, yet you have to live with it,” says Julia, hopelessly.
It is easy to understand the frustration of working mothers like Julia. Julia grew up abroad, going to school daily until 4pm, with just eleven weeks of holidays a year, including summer and term holidays. It is difficult for her to understand why Malta is so different.
“They often blame the heat, but several warmer countries manage without such long summer breaks. Air conditioners are everywhere, then why not in schools? Surely it is a worthwhile investment in exchange for the wellbeing of both children and parents, when life can be less stressful.
“When kids are in school, they are in a safe, learning environment and life becomes much easier for them and their parents. School was never intended to be one long holiday.”
When will the school calendar step up to the reality of the society we live in today?
Until there is a change in the schooling situation on a national level, flexible working for at least one of the two parents is essential, if both parents are to be part of the working world.
One way or the other, change is necessary.